Paris Paralympics: Tokyo’s golden duo feels India can do even better
The self-effacing duo were the cynosure of all eyes during their guest appearance at the Bengal Para Games and the first-ever East Zonal Para Badminton Championship in the city last week
The phenomenal haul of 19 medals at the Tokyo Paralympics 2020 will surely raise the expectations from the Indian contingent in Paris in a little more than a year from now. The stakes will be especially high for the likes of Pramod Bhagat and Krishna Nagar, the two para-badminton gold medallists and much-decorated athletes — who are taking nothing for granted.
The self-effacing duo were the cynosure of all eyes during their guest appearance at the Bengal Para Games and the first-ever East Zonal Para Badminton Championship in the city last week — but they wore their star status rather lightly on their shoulders. ‘’The expectations will be obviously more but this time, our preparations have begun well in advance. I won’t be surprised if we overtake the Tokyo tally of 19 this time,’’ said Bhagat, a multiple world champion and Paralympics gold medallist in the SL3 category.
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It was in Tokyo that para-badminton took its bow in the Olympics arena and it accounted for four of India’s medals — the two golds of Bhagat, Nagar apart from a silver and bronze. Both the aces, however, agreed that the competition will get ‘’tougher’’ in Paris with countries like China, Japan, England and France expected to provide a stiff challenge.
Speaking to National Herald on the sidelines of the zonal event, the 35-year-old Bhagat — a Padmashree and Khel Ratna awardee — said that their contingent was just back from Canada after taking part in a qualifying championship for Paralympics. ‘’There are two major events between now and Paris: the Asian Games and World Championship. This time, our preparation seems to be much more systematic than the last edition when the pandemic had upset our build-up plans,’’ said Bhagat, who had to conquer a disability in his left leg after being afflicted by polio.
Even before para-badminton arrived in the Olympics arena, the Orissa-based Bhagat had carved a niche for himself with three gold medals at the Worlds. He added a fourth late last year, taking his championship count to four titles in the seven events that he had been to — except for in 2007 and 2017.
The ever-smiling Nagar, who had to shrug off many a derisive comment through this life for the dwarfism, feels he is getting back into the groove in time after being out of action for the past year. ‘’I had slid down to 15th position in the world rankings after being out of action for a while, but I have clawed back to fifth position now,’’ said the man from Jaipur.
‘’In my category (SH 6), a number of strong players have emerged since Tokyo and I have to bring out my A game in order to strike a medal again,’’ Nagar said.
The medal shower by the Paralympians in Tokyo had exceeded their best-ever shows by more than a mile. ‘’It was a huge collective effort from across disciplines like para athletics, para shooting and of course our sport. The Union Sports Ministry had backed up our efforts, but I will have to thank my state government for all forms of support. We are really hopeful of doing one better next year,’’ Nagar said.
A key behind any form of continuity in good performance has to be a steady supply line of young players and it’s on this front that Bhagat felt that more regional events — in the model of the one conducted in Kolkata — around the country will play a key role. ‘’From what I saw, there was enough talent on display but we need more events like this,’’ he felt.